You’re in your car, stopped at a traffic light. Suddenly, for no good reason at all, a melody from the 5th grade spring concert starts running inside your head. And it stays there until you arrive at your destination.

Wakeful at night, one of the songs the 2nd graders were singing last October pops into your head (seriously? October? in the middle of the night?), and you’re awake for another 20 minutes.

Standing in a line, waiting to be served, and a drumming pattern decides to make a return appearance. You move your body ever so slightly. Soon you become aware that others in the line are giving you strange looks.

Facility in recalling music of all kinds is an essential skill for music teachers. In fact, it’s a skill we’re quite proud of. And actually, we really wouldn’t ever want to lose that hard-earned skill. Indeed, our own mental storage facilities are far more efficient than having to rely on some online database or thumbing through a file cabinet. It’s just that we’d like to have a little more control over it. We need that skill to be in top form when we’re actually trying to remember something. And certainly we’d like to have a little more control over the “what” and the “when”!

So the real dilemma is how to maintain your interior “storage facility” while at the same time establishing a “clean slate” so that’s there’s room in your storage facility for the music needed in the next school year.

Here are a few suggestions that might help . . . and certainly won’t hurt!

1. Make it point to consciously listen to sounds in nature: Can you hear any sort of musical form? Are there parallels in Western Music? in non-western musical traditions? Here’s a starter list:

bird song                                wind
squirrel chatter                       storms
crashing ocean waves           water fall
lake ripples                             barely audible insect noises

2. Explore a musical tradition that is totally unknown to you. The very natural compare-and-contrast process gives you new perspectives regarding your own musical tradition(s). Here are just a few:

Native American musical traditions
Tuvan throat singing
Carnatic or Bihu music from India
Sacred Harp hymn singing
Shakuhachi flute music from Japan
Music from any non-western tradition!

3. Create new instruments for your classroom from found objects:

  • Large plastic plumbing pipes capped at one end – bounced on the floor (those really big pipes in lengths much taller than your students)
  • Large plastic bucket drums
  • Rainsticks made out of cardboard tubes, inserted small dowels, and rice
  • Rattles of all sorts made from found objects

4. Compose a song and write an instrumental setting for it. Actually, you know you should be doing this all the time, even during the school year, when you’ll automatically claim you’re too busy. But summertime allows for the extended editing, sharing with a colleague, and editing-again processes that will strengthen your compositions.

  • Start with a text. Choose something meaningful. (There are already lots of silly songs!)
  • Speak the text, trying out various time signatures. Pick the one that seems closest to natural speech.
  • Choose a tonality and a form.
  • Write the melody. Let it sit for several days. Edit. Edit again.
  • Write the instrumental setting. Less is more. Edit. Edit again. (This is a beautiful song you’ve written; so don’t cover it up with too much instrumentation.)

If you write one or two pieces every summer it will change your teaching and make you a happier person–even if you choose not to teach your piece to your students.

Happy Ear-Cleaning!